Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 4

Stepping down from the debarkation platform, the cadets and their captain gazed across the rows of buildings until they saw the main academy complex, dominated by the Tower of Galileo which housed the headquarters of the Solar Guard. The gleaming tower of Titan crystal reflected a pale hint of the blue of the sky mixed with the opalescence of the crystal’s matrix. Stepping onto the slidewalk that would take them to the quad, the team approached the buildings with grim resolve. Steve’s mind was busy trying to compile an oral report, which he would have to deliver with precision to Commander Walters. Arriving at the entrance to the tower, the trio noticed that there seemed to be more activity than normal on each floor. Time after time, each of the three surrendered his identification badge to a group of Security Officers and NCOs. Each time the badge was inserted into a special reader and the reader was held up to the right eye of the badge holder. A retinal scan was made which was compared to the one electronically imprinted onto the ID card. Should there be the slightest discrepancy or mismatch, each card also contained a specified portion of the DNA makeup of the card’s owner. There were no problems and the Polaris crew passed each checkpoint quickly. Commander Walters’ secretary greeted the crew and escorted them to what Astro often referred to as “The Big Office”. The appellation was not without merit for the office was huge, but functional. Providing a view of the parade grounds, spaceport and Quad, the large office was overwhelming. As a counterpoint, the desk of the Commander of the Solar Guard seemed small and out of place.

The figure of the middle aged Commander was silhouetted against the huge floor to ceiling window overlooking the spaceport. Standing at attention, Captain Strong announced, “Captain Steven Strong, Cadets Tom Corbett and Astro reporting, Sir.”

“At ease, Captain.”, came the muted reply. Commander Walters turned to the crewmen, then focused on Tom and Astro. “You boys have had a busy morning, haven’t you?

“Yes, Sir”, was the reply in unison.

Looking back at Steve, Walters asked for a briefing of the known events up to that moment. the young Guardsman precisely detailed the action of his charges up to the point of exiting the hotel and then gave the surmised account according to Inspector Kolvek. A preliminary report about Roger Manning’s condition was also given and a request for access to the med center was also filed.

Commander Walters thanked Steve for the report and told him that the latest word on Roger’s condition was encouraging. As soon as he was stable, he would be transferred to the Academy infirmary for recovery. Tom and Astro both let out a sigh of relief at the news.

The vidcom unit on the Commander’s desk suddenly beeped and Walters picked up the handset unit which was used for private conversations. Turning away from the Polaris crew, the officer spoke softly into the unit. Then suddenly, in a loud voice, shouted, “He what?!.... Do not leave him alone! Put multiple guards on him until I can see him. Alert Bull Wellington of the facts and wait for me. The prisoner is not to speak to anybody until I see him. Understood?... Very well... Walters out and clear.”

The Solar Guard officer seemed unusually agitated. Heading toward an innocuous looking wall panel, Walters pressed his hand against a mirrored surface trim. The panel glowed green and the wall panel slid aside revealing a lift car which neither the cadets or Captain Strong knew existed. “Gentlemen, please come with me. This lift is much faster than the slidestairs.”, said Walters.

Silently the three crewmen entered the lift and Walters pressed a button and the door slid closed. As the floor seemed to drop out from under the passengers Security Badge Commander Walters spoke up. “Men, we caught the perpetrator. He didn’t get as far as the first checkpoint at the monorail platform.. He’s being held in security right now.”

Tom and Astro looked at each other and wordlessly expressed their determination to follow this case to the end. After a sudden deceleration, the lift doors opened in a dark, empty room. Commander Walters, knowing his way around, found the doorway and opened it to a remote and under used hallway that led to the passage to the security section.

Buford W. “Bull” Wellington, the new head of security, greeted the group just outside the small detention room. Major Wellington’s facial features justified living with his nickname. Of African lineage, Bull Wellington is about forty years old and over six feet tall. His massive, muscular frame was accentuated by the Black and gold Solar Guard uniform which was obviously custom tailored because of the huge shoulders that tapered down to a waistline that was smaller than Tom’s. His dark, clean shaven face was surrounded by jet black hair except for a faint hint of gray at the temples. His jaw was set in a permanent position, that drew any gaze to his eyes. The large, brown irises of his eyes took in every detail presented to them. It was obvious to Tom and Astro that the new security chief was not to be trifled with.

“Commander, because of the possibility of sabotage, I request that I be allowed to personally interview the suspect. I want no guards or vids present.”, stated the officer.

Walters, somewhat uncomfortable with the request, agreed, but warned, “Major, keep it sanitary!”

Tom swallowed hard and wondered if he was seeing a side of the Solar Guard that he wasn’t familiar with. It was the uniform practice of the Guard to give any miscreant the opportunity to choose reform or serve a life term on “The Rock”, the penal asteroid from which there was little chance for escape. Aside from the shock of being frozen or released from the effects of a paralo ray, he had never known of Solar Guardsmen to dole out any form of physical harm or retribution to a prisoner. It was considered uncivilized!

Bull left the group behind as he entered the holding area. The prisoner was seated at a table with his right arm manacled to the surface. The small man looked upward at the foreboding figure that approached. He managed to produce a squeaky voice that belied his younger appearance. “You’ve got nuttin’on me! Let me go. I’ve got rights!”

Quick as a mongoose, the huge security officer grabbed the manacled arm of the prisoner, pulled it tight against the chains and stared the prisoner directly in the eyes. “H...h...hey! can’t do that!”, cried the startled man as he contemplated loosing the use of his right arm.

Dropping his grip from the man’s arm down to the table where the chain was attached, Bull Wellington grasped the chain tightly and in a slow, smooth movement ripped the chain, retainer and bolts right out of the heavy table. Then grabbing the man by the shirt, he pulled the captive from the chair like a child’s doll. Holding the prisoner’s eyes level to his own and nose to nose, Bull screamed, “Rights? Mister, your civilian rights ended when you stepped off of the monorail onto Space Academy grounds! As far as I am concerned, you are either a spy or saboteur. As of now you don’t exist for any other reason than to answer my questions.”

After forty five minutes of nervous pacing, Tom and Astro froze as they saw Major Wellington burst through the door and confer with Commander Walters. After a few minutes, Walters motioned to the boys and Captain Strong to join the senior officers. ”Gentlemen, Major Wellington has obtained a complete confession and all of the details of a potentially serious situation. I cannot give you specific information right now, but I can tell you that you will continue to be involved in this case. I ask you to now attest to me that you will not divulge anything that you see or hear during or after this mission unless you are given permission by myself or my replacement.”

“Aye aye Sir!”, was the response from the Polaris crew.

As he was turning away, Walters brought his hands up to the shoulders of the crewmen and formed a huddle with them. “I can tell you now that your friend, Cadet Manning, was injured as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The perpetrator’s name is Joseph Imus and we have reason to believe that his brother and others are involved in a scheme of treachery and treason. While the burglary was a well planned act, the facts are that it could have happened to any cadets or officers staying in that hotel. The I.D. was the target, not Manning or yourselves. The prisoner will stand trial for his attempted entry into the academy and for assault on a cadet. We will then turn him over the civil authorities for trial on the burglary charges. In view of his confession, I doubt that you will be required for testimony. Now, check back on your friend and return for some rest. You will be briefed on a new mission in the morning. Dismissed!”

“Captain?, asked Tom, “What did Commander Walters mean when he swore us to secrecy and said that we couldn’t say anything unless he or his replacement gave the okay?”

“Well, Strong began, “I don’t foresee the old man shutting down his rockets for a long time, so I guess that this is a long term operation. Maybe it will go on for years!”

Tom lowered his voice and asked, “Sir, do you think that Major Wellington might have hurt that man?”

Steve smiled and turned to his young charge. “Tom, until today I have never met Bull Wellington. But his reputation is well known among the officers of the Guard. Believe me when I tell you that Bull Wellington has never hurt anyone that he has interrogated.” Then turning away, “You saw him. Do you think that he has to cause physical pain?”

Tom thought for a moment. Then looking rather sheepish replied, “Captain, I would tell that man about my toilet training if he asked!”

Astro, looking for answers to a building mound of questions, asked, “Captain, we’ll be able to tell Roger about the mission, won’t we?”

“You didn’t hear the Commander say so, did you? Unless we are told otherwise, Roger will not be included.”, said the officer. “Sorry fellas, I’m afraid even Roger will be in the dark. I know it will be hard to keep this secret, but your word as cadets is sacred and your honor will help you until the time is right. Now, let’s go to the med center.”

The sun had already sank below the low mountains in the west as the trio exited the Academy and boarded the slidewalk to the monorail platform.. The dark skies were constantly lit up by the flashes from dozens of spacecraft and aircraft commuting to and from the complex. Tom’s thoughts were not of the wonderful sights and sounds around him, but they were of his friend lying unconscious in the med center many miles away. It would be good to see him again.
End Chapter 4 -

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II